We’ve probably all heard the old adage “Money can’t buy happiness!” our whole lives, and it’s not for nothing. Happiness only increases up to a more modest salary than you’d expect and doesn’t rise accordingly beyond that. The elderly don’t come to the end of their lives wishing they had more money, it’s true.
Where the wise phrase doesn’t quite ring true, however, is when money is used to buy you the gift of time.
A study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School shows that when people “buy time”, it makes them exponentially happier than when they buy material things. “People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” says lead author of the study Ashley Whillans, Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School, “but our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money.”
For the survey, over 6,000 people residing in the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada were asked if they used money to buy themselves free time, and if so, how much they spent. The researchers then asked them about their stress levels and overall life satisfaction.
Their findings concluded that those who reported buying time also had higher levels of life satisfaction and lower stress.
If you’re thinking what probably many of us are, at this point: that the luxury of “buying time” is almost exclusively for the well-off, then this little bit of information may bring you some joy: it’s not. Elizabeth Dunn, a UBC psychology professor and the study’s senior author, said, “We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum.”
After the study was conducted, researchers went a step further to test their theory. They gave 60 people an assignment: spend $40 this weekend on any time-saving purchase this weekend (For example, paying someone to mow the lawn, or having someone come and clean their kitchen).
The following weekend, they were to spend the same amount of money, $40, on a physical object of some sort (like a new dress or a meal out).
This study also concluded that the time-saving purchase made people happier than the physical object.
It’s not the case for everyone at all times in their lives, but often, there are ways we can foresake more things. Perhaps, instead of buying that new dress you spot at the mall, you use your extra available cash to have someone come mop your floors and wash your windows? Instead of doing these things for hours on a Saturday morning, you’ve gifted yourself available time to spend with your family. That can be pretty priceless.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.